The Shoe Tree

People frequently ask me how I came to live in Alabama, and I usually tell them that I got on the wrong bus and have been trying to find my way out even since. After all, I went from New York to London to Atlanta to Clemson to Sheffield, a circuitous route at best. About a year ago, one of my few very close friends managed to make it out of Alabama when she and her husband moved to Memphis, and every once in a while we go to visit them there.

On the way there we are reminded of something we see every time we take that route. It’s what we lovingly, and laughingly, refer to as the Shoe Tree. It’s a tall tree which stands by the side of the road laden with scores of pairs of shoes which people have thrown over the branches during, I guess, the past several years. I don’t remember when we first noticed this tree because it seemed to have sprung from nowhere one time as if by magic, as if it had always been there. Every time we pass it there appear to be more shoes on it, some very nice, barely worn, even some new shoes, too. In fact, the weight of the many shoes seems to be bending the trunk and branches and possibly damaging the tree, but that concern is for a different article.

So, why would I choose to write about something as mundane as the Shoe Tree? Well, it’s not quite so ordinary to me, but rather is symbolic of several things in my life. That friend who moved away? You see, selfishly I was very opposed to this friend moving. I didn’t want to get left behind. But her husband was, and is, very sick, and they needed to move closer to doctors and family. So I had to “walk a mile in her shoes,” if you will, and the Shoe Tree reminds me of all that, especially when we pass it on our way to visit them.

And there is the time-honored Chinese proverb that loosely paraphrased goes something like this: “The journey of a lifetime begins with but a single step,” which brings me back to shoes. And nearly every time I pass the Shoe Tree I am embarking upon some sort of journey west. At this time of year I also think of all the seniors at all the different schools throughout the country about to take their first “single steps.”

Add to all this the tree itself, symbol of life (the tree of life), and the Shoe Tree conjures up a pretty powerful image for me. Whoever initiated the Shoe Tree could have draped his shoes on the stonewall that rests behind the tree, and then we would have had a Shoe Wall, but that wouldn’t have had the same impact, and besides, he intentionally chose a tree. For me, it reminds me of my life’s journey, and every time I pass it I reevaluate that. The Shoe Tree makes me reflect on where I am on that great trip, where I’ve been, and where I’m headed. My guess is that whoever started the Shoe Tree never intended it to be such a contemplative a piece of art, but it works for me. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll find my way out of Alabama and pass the Shoe Tree for the very last time.


– Emily Horn Kelly

Emily was raised by extremely liberal parents in the lush and gorgeous Hudson Valley of New York where she was always in sight of inspiring mountains. Her formal education took her travelling all over the world at a youngish age and instilled in her a great love of different cultures and diversities, both tangible and philosophical. She has enjoyed more than one profession, including that of being a chef, and has cooked for presidents and governors alike. She has lived in Alabama since 1989, though she longs for a cooler climate. Presently she resides in Sheffield, with her beloved husband, Tim, and two very old cats, and near her now-grown, delightful son, Dylan.

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